Cook Island reps . . . Temuka Rugby Club coaches Anam Mana (left) and Nate Robinson (right) will lead the Cook Islands team for its Rugby World Cup campaign, and utility-back Allan Toki joins the squad this weekend. PHOTO: HELEN HOLT

by Helen Holt

Two Temuka coaches are leading the Cook Islands’ bid to make the Rugby World Cup.

Temuka Rugby Club coaches Anam Mana and Nathan Robinson have been selected to coach the Cook Islands team.

The 40-strong squad will meet in Nelson for the first time this weekend to kick off its World Cup campaign with a game against the Tasman Makos.

They will have a training camp before they play the New Zealand Under-20 in Auckland, and finally play the loser of the Tonga v Samoa game as a qualifier for the World Cup.

Robinson said it was the Cook Islands’ big chance to make the Rugby World Cup.

“Samoa and Tonga are both professional teams, and they get to train up for a month before they go on tour.

“We’re unpaid, so there’re challenges with having to ask for three weeks off from our jobs, plus leaving our families for three weeks, as well.

“The chance is real. This is probably our biggest chance because the majority of Pacific rugby players are in the northern hemisphere, who Tonga and Samoa were relying on for their World Cup teams.

“And at the moment they can’t get into New Zealand without a New Zealand passport, whereas the guys from the Cook Islands can.”

Robinson said the coaching position came suddenly.

“I was initially asked to put a squad together for the Cook Island team, by collaborating players from the islands, Australia and around New Zealand,” Robinson said.

“The original coaches had to drop out for various reasons, like some couldn’t hold it down because it’s time off work.

“So when I got asked, I said that I wanted a few changes, so I brought Anam in, and Ash Parker [former Canterbury player] and Lima Sopoaga [former All Black].”

“I brought Anam in because I know what he can bring to the table, and also what we’re capable of.

“I wouldn’t have put our hands up for it if I didn’t think we were up to it.”

The squad will also include Temuka utility back Allan Toki and fullback Mata Matapakia, from Geraldine.

Toki said the excitement was only starting to sink in.

“At first it didn’t. But as we’re getting closer to the date it’s starting to feel very real.

“It’s really weird, eh?” Mana added.

“We actually have a good chance of making it.”

The coaches said that many of the players in the team had never met before, so team bonding would be a big part of the training.

“It’s very important,” Mana said.

“What was called ‘bonding’, we call ‘culture’ and every team needs it.

“Especially with our club, it’s built on culture. Culture represents everything: the boys’ family, people, the supporters.”

Robinson and Mana have played for the Cook Islands team in the past.

Robinson said it was an honour to wear the jersey.

“We’ve been there before, so we understand the sacrifices.”